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Susan Hoyt: Navigating River Crossing’s ‘Ground Zero’

St. Joseph’s new River Crossing Project Coordinator Susan Hoyt, displays aerial photos showing part of the bridge-highway-bike-path construction area. (Hudson Star-Observer photo by Chuck Nowlen)

It’s Susan Hoyt’s first day on the job, and after a quick meeting in St. Joseph Town Hall, she’ll take a long drive through the local countryside, which will all be changed forever soon by a $600 million bridge.

“I like actually seeing things that I’ll be working on before I get started,” said Hoyt, the town’s new River Crossing project coordinator.

“All the projects, all the timelines, all the coordinating, all the people involved: At the front end, especially, it’s just a little easier to get a handle on everything when I actually see where it’s going to happen first, right there in front of me.”

Vision, after all, is the name of the game as St. Joseph ramps up planning for the River Crossing project, Hoyt noted. And, make no mistake about it, there are details, connections, interrelationships and time frames everywhere –- constantly evolving as the next two years of construction and development play out.

There is also a daunting regulatory and oversight interplay among two state bureaucracies, the federal government, St. Croix County, and scores of municipalities and citizen groups, each with a vision of its own.

No wonder, then, that St. Joseph Township, the Wisconsin connecting point for the new bridge, has been called River Crossing’s “Ground Zero.”

“I think it’s great what St. Joseph is doing -- what the entire community is doing, really –- because what we’re really talking about is a community that’s looking carefully forward into its future,” Hoyt explained.

“This is an enormous, complex project that’s unique in many, many ways. It’s also very exciting.”

The long haul begins

Hoyt’s job, approved by the St. Joseph Town Board in March and funded by the county Growth Management Advisory Team April 15, is to keep everyone in St. Joseph singing from the same hymnal –- in sync and in the right key.

“This is a nonpartisan position, and Susan’s sole goal is to keep everybody and everything moving in the same direction,” said Town Chairman Dan Gavin.

Hoyt put it this way in a Town Hall interview last week: “I’ll be supporting the Town Board, all of its committees and all of its community members to track all of the activities, projects, impacts and ideas that are going on related to River Crossing. I’ll be making sure all of the connections are made and all of the timelines are met. I’ll also be making sure that everyone involved has the same information, which they need to have to make good decisions.”

Hoyt will be working for the town as an independent consultant. Her position was funded at $25,000, estimated to cover about 400 hours over an unspecified time period.

She has more than 30 years of experience to back her up, including: more than 15 years as a city administrator in Falcon Heights, Lake Elmo and Northfield, Minn.; four years as community engagement and outreach project manager for the Twin Cities Metropolitan Council; three years as an assistant city planner in La Crosse; and two years as a community development planner in Winona.

“She’s definitely the right person for the St. Joseph job,” said Mark Vanasse, a member of the town’s River Crossing Committee, one of many players in the local planning effort.

“She’s got all the experience you could ask for with a massive project like this. She’s done it all and knows how it all works. Plus –- and this is probably just as important, if not more so –- she knows how to work with people. She knows how to deal with different viewpoints and personalities.”

Nowhere, perhaps, was that more apparent than in Hoyt’s work on another infrastructure project, a municipal sewer development in Lake Elmo.

That city’s contentious Common Council was pilloried at the time after some meetings disintegrated into shouting matches. But, looking back, Hoyt sees it as the price of inclusive, deliberative progress.

“This was a major sewer project involving a master development plan and a major potential environmental impact,” she recalled. “It was also a very engaged citizenry with a lot of different perspectives on the issue. I like that. I mean, the process doesn’t always have to be cheery to be effective.”

The result: “Well, I understand that the sewer’s being built now and that everything’s moving along,” Hoyt said.

Meetings, meetings and more meetings

River Crossing, of course, is even larger, more complicated and more far-reaching.

Hoyt noted, for starters, that planning will be affected by existing or pending initiatives in such things as comprehensive town planning, natural resources, bike and pedestrian trails, economic-impact models, land preservation, waste and storm water management, and county Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) geographical and mapping resources.

“Those are just a few things, right off the top of my head,” she said. “I’m sure there will be many, MANY more as we move forward.”

What does she expect the easiest part of her job to be?

“That will probably be having the chance to attend all the committee meetings in St. Joseph –- the Planning Commission, the River Crossing Committee, Public Works, Parks and Recreation and all the rest,” she said.

“I’m really looking forward to learning about all the activities underway, and the questions and concerns that all the committee members have.”

She’ll also be working hard on her own time to “learn in as much detail as possible” about everything else there is to know about River Crossing in the two states involved. That will help her fully grasp all the pieces and how they fit together.

Hoyt added: “After that, we’ll start to lay out all our activities ahead, to figure out exactly where everybody is along the process and to answer the questions that everybody has. I’ll be attending all the various meetings in May and June. Then I hope to have a blueprint ready to sort of get everything going.

“Then we’ll revise and change as needed, and come up with something to show all the many linkages and time lines involved -- and we’ll find out more about that as we move forward too. There will be no big report at the end either. I’m just trying to help the township move all along the process in the very best possible way it can.”

The hardest part of the job?

“Hmmmm, that’s a question I really can’t relate to,” Hoyt said. “I just think it’ll be fun.”

Chuck Nowlen

Chuck Nowlen joined the Star-Observer team as a business, township and general-assignment reporter in April, 2014 after a three-decade career in newspapers and magazines, and as a newsroom-management/business-planning consultant.

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